Medieval Worship - Medieval Churches

Religion in medieval times is a fascinating subject. It touched upon on all classes of people and impacted upon the way they lived their whole lives. It also had an enormous impact upon medieval architecture and much of what we can still see today - medieval castles, priories, churches and cathedrals - owes its character to the nature of medieval worship.

In this section we look at medieval religion in England and Great Britain. Other countries such as France, Italy and Spain have their own wealth of history on the subject and perhaps one day we will be able to devote time and energy into developing relevant sections for them. For now, however, we will concentrate on England and Great Britain.

It is fair to say that the medieval church played a far greater role in people's lives in medieval than it does today. Indeed, the medieval church dominated people's lives, whether noblemen, town's people or surfs. The principal religion of England and Great Britain in the medieval era was the Roman Catholic Church with the Pope at its head.

Places of worship included churches and cathedrals as well as priories, monasteries and convents. Monasteries originated in Italy but soon spread to other parts of Europe including Britain and by the turn of the 12th century all of western Europe embraced Christianity.

The medieval church symbolised much more than religious worship; many people looked to the church for other needs such as education and medicine and often for food in times of hardship.

Throughout Europe and especially in Britain, most important cities had their own cathedral, the most famous English cathedral being Cantebury Cathedral (construction began 1174 AD). Other notable medieval cathedrals in England include:

Winchester Cathedral - the longest medieval cathedral in the whole world.

St. Albans Cathedral - this has the longest nave of any cathedral in Britain (106m or 348 ft).

Durham Cathedral - believed to be the oldest cathedral in Britain which is still in use today (construction began 1093 AD)

Oxford Cathedral - believed to be the small medieval cathedral in England still in use.

Read more about medieval worship, cathedrals and churches ....

- Carlisle Cathedral

- Lanercost Priory

- St. Etheldreda's Church

- St. Bartholomew The Great Church

- St. Michael's Church

The Reformation & The Priest Hole
Until the 16th century the Roman Catholic Church was the predominant religion of Western Europe and in particular England and Great Britain. In medieval England, going to church had developed into a very strong experience rich in ritual and ceremony. However, when King Henry VIII of England made the decision to reject the Pope's authority, he instigated a course of action that resulted in major changes in religious worship, church decoration and ceremony. This period in history denotes what is called 'The Reformation'.

We will not delve into The Reformation in too much detail as it goes beyond the medieval timeline - ie. 1530 AD onwards. However, it is worthy of note because of its impact on medieval castle architecture during the 16th and 17th centuries. Many noblemen and aristocratic families owned and lived in medieval castles. A number of aristocrats in England retained their Catholic beliefs after The Reformation and therefore had to worship in secret. Their medieval castles already had a chapel but many ceremonies required a Catholic priest to be in attendance and of course after Henry VIII this was forbidden. The solution was the priest hole.

Read our dedicated priest hole page - a special feature covering the history of the Naworth Castle priest hole including our own priest hole video.